The Ghosts of Dinners Past

I’ll admit when I chose this challenge I was concerned I wouldn’t have much to say about such a simple topic: HOW TO PROPERLY SET THE TABLE.  Crafting a relevant essay about proper table setting that anyone might find interesting seemed beyond my abilities. What I found was that parental guidance, in regard to manners, is a universal topic. Many people, not all related to me, shared aspects of their childhood dinner table expectations. One of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog, is that it allows me to spend time thinking about things I rarely give thought to. Childhood memories are often linked to larger occasions or memorable events but with the focus on table etiquette I found myself envisioning the daily meal routine of my childhood.

Table manners and general etiquette were obviously important to my mom. Like blue eyes and long arms, many of the expectations I had for my children were inherited from my parents and passed down. Just as the folk tale Boy Who Cried Wolf  demonstrated the dangers of lying to generations of kids, there remains one singular figure from my family lore to illustrate the importance of good manners. Her name is unimportant, but my siblings all know to whom I am referring. The poor child has served as a living example of how NOT to act for decades. I don’t know any of the specific details, only that a young guest in our home, elementary school-aged, drank directly from the milk container. Opened the refrigerator, picked up the milk carton, placed lips to spout and took a drink.

The act in question occurred before my birth but has lived on through telling after telling. No one wanted to be called by the name that had become synonymous with bad manners. We knew not to drink directly from the milk carton but any similar infraction might call forth that name, like the ghost of Christmas past, and cast you in the role of Scrooge, himself. This was not a mean-spirited activity, it was always offered in a joking manner, but the lesson was understood. It served to impress upon us that our behavior, especially outside our home, reflected on our family as a whole. The implication was that the child was not at fault, but her parents, for not having taught her any better. Hence the repeated manta of every parent, “What’s the magic word?”

Maybe that is why I feel like I need to clarify something. When I said I gave up on my kids having to excuse themselves from the table, you might have envisioned young Suttees pushing back and leaving the table anytime they wanted. In reality, there was no asking to be excused. No need to ask.  We treated dinner table chairs like airplane seats. Until the fasten the seatbelt light was off, no one was going anywhere. Although I like to think we offered our kids independence in thought and action when possible, that did not occur at the dinner table. Much like my own childhood, dinner time was more dictatorship than democracy. I’ll acknowledge freedom is a better teacher than control, but as many young parents come to realize, the illusion of control exercised in a few select areas, keeps a person sane. Go ahead and judge. While you are judging, I’ll give you a great example to boost your argument.

When our basset hound, Luke, was a potty-training puppy we lived in a base-housing duplex without a fence. The living and dining areas were at opposite ends of a large room. The door to the back yard was near the dining end of the room.  If you opened that door fully, and someone was sitting at the head of the table, you would hit them. It was not a large place.  One night, we were all seated at the dinner table, and Luke started to whine at the door to be let out. Rachel asked to get up to let him out and Lee said he could wait until we were done. In rapid succession, Luke pooped. Three-year-old, Andrew, vomited then cried. Everyone yelled.  We were all excused.

Luckily, nothing like that happened at the ball. No one pooped by the table, no one sat on their feet, and no one vomited. Years ago, at the next table, someone did indeed vomit at the ball, on his salad, during grace. His name is also unimportant but his message is clear. You will not be remembered for all of the good things you did over your career, if you puke during dinner at the Marine Corps Ball. You might, however, be remembered in the blog of an acquaintance you probably wouldn’t recognize anymore.

This post has taken a rather disgusting turn, my apologies. Back to the ball.

I drank from the correct glasses and used the correct fork. Whether you can credit BMW or bd for that, I cannot say. Wasn’t hard due to the fact that there was only one fork. Frankly, I was also confused about what I believed, according to BMW, to be the dessert spoon because, sadly, no cake was ever served at our table. Only through keen observation and advanced tracking techniques were we able to spot and retrieve cake for ourselves, from a table tucked in the corner of the ball room.  Forks were provided at the cake table. Why the spoon?

I will leave you to play which one of these is not like the other.

 

Thanks for sharing your etiquette memories and tips! I appreciate you spending your time, and a bit of your head space, with me.  Knowing you are reading helps me keep writing, so if you wish I’d just stop already, it’s your fault

In case you were wondering:

2020ballgifts.jpg
Ball gifts this year.

Before you go…I can’t find anything that says you can’t remove your shoes to dance at a formal event so apparently no etiquette rules were broken.

We Ate Things We Didn’t Recognize

I crowd-sourced what cuisine I should try for the TRY ANOTHER COUNTRY’S CUISINE Challenge and the winner was: Ethiopia! (I took a poll on Facebook and Instagram and Ethiopia thumped Russia/Uzbekistan in the voting). This was one of those challenges where I thought, “Why did I say I’d do this?” We did a little research about what we should eat and, maybe more precisely, what we should avoid. Tibs: stir-fried meat, yes.  Kitfo: raw lean ground beef, no. Feeling fairly prepared, we ventured out but I can’t say we were too excited.

Sora
Full disclosure: taken as we were leaving.

Turns out there are six Ethiopian places within walking distance. We chose Sora Ethiopian Market and Cafe, which is only half a mile from out house! It’s not a large place and luckily we weren’t the only diners. Game plan: order some kind of identifiable meat and be comforted by the idea of bread. We had decided we needed to order one of the combo platters that seem to be the staple of Ethiopian cuisine. So we picked the Veggies of the Day and added something called YeShint Tibs: cubed ribeye steak sautéed with onions, garlic, tomato, jalapeño and some kind of seasoning.

menu
Notice the YeShint Tibs. As well as various other Tibs.

In Ethiopia you eat without utensils.  Meals are served with a spongy flatbread called injera which you tear off into small pieces and use to scoop up the meat or vegetables. It’s not bad once you get the hang of it, but messy.

injera
Injera. An endless supply.

So, I’m sure you are wondering, how was the food? It was pretty good! I was surprised that I liked the vegetables better than the bread or the beef.  Let’s start with the bread.  Injera has a strange, almost sour, flavor.  It serves primarily as a vessel to get the food from plate to mouth.  It certainly isn’t something that I would just eat alone but with the veggies or meat it almost disappears flavor-wise. The temperature was off-putting, room temperature with an almost clammy feel.  I’m not sure I’d even describe it as bread? Lee and I were in agreement about the injera.

For the meat entree, YeShint Tibs, I liked the seasoning but the steak was just okay,  I wanted it to be more tender and I thought our server said it would be thinly sliced.  However, looking at the menu now it clearly says “chunk cubes” of ribeye, so…I guess that’s on me.  Lee liked the meat better than I did.

On to the veggies.  I was nervous about them. In the pictures they looked mushy and of indeterminate origin.  However, I liked all but one of the five!

Foodlabeled
All platters are served on injera.

A veggie breakdown:

Messer: spicy lentil stew- my favorite!  Good texture, nice level of spice!

Alicha Messer: non-spicy whole lentil stew- not a lot of flavor and in certain circumstances that’s a win!

Alicha Kik: yellow split pea stew- not a ton of flavor and full disclosure, I thought it was described by the server as being sweet potatoes, which probably made me give it the benefit of the doubt before even tasting it.  The whole dish was kind of an exercise in suspended disbelief anyway because it looked like corn.

Kay Sir: red beets, carrots and potatoes cooked with onions and garlic- surprisingly good!  I do like beets (cooked only, please!) and potatoes, to the picky eater, are a god-send, plus carrots, I can do.  I was good once I realized that even though I couldn’t tell whether a chunk was beet, potato or carrot they all tasted fine.

Gomen: Collard greens cooked with onion and garlic- I saved the best for last…no. This was no bueno.  Wrong language,  I know. Wrong country even, but really just plain wrong. I’m not a fan of collard greens, in general, and these were probably perfectly fine if you like them, but, just no for me.  I did try them and, honestly, it was the only thing I ate all night where I was like, just swallow and try not to make a face.

We admitted to our server that this was our first time eating Ethiopian food and she said we seemed like naturals!  I think she was impressed that we didn’t ask for silverware.  Overall, we enjoyed it.  We might even go back.  Maybe.

coke
Liquid security blanket.

So, did you eat something from somewhere different? What did you think?  I’d love to hear about it!  I was about to write that maybe we’d try out more new food from other countries but, you know, I’m going to pace myself.  I’ve promised to try sushi and we might just give the Uzbek/Russian place by the movie theatre a go but after that I think I’ll give my tastebuds and my overactive imagination a rest.  Thanks for reading!

Before you go…I must admit that Lee tasted everything first and told me what I’d like and what I wouldn’t!  Although, I was going to try everything anyway it helped me to prepare mentally.  Let’s just say he’s my food wing man.